Dual enrollment programs — which are partnerships between school districts and institutions of higher education that allow high school students to enroll in college courses and earn college credit — have become increasingly popular and an attractive talking point for lawmakers looking to demonstrate their dedication to “college and career readiness.”

Participation in dual enrollment programs are correlated with higher rates of graduation, college attendance, and more. And research has even found that dual enrollment programs lead to higher degree attainment for low-income students. However, dual enrollment programs have largely been an acceleration opportunity reserved for White, middle or higher income families.

Data shows that 1 in 10 White students, 1 in 15 Latino students, and 1 in 20 Black students participate in dual enrollment programs. Even in Texas, where state law requires districts to offer dual-credit opportunities, Black, Latino, and students from low-income backgrounds were less likely to be enrolled. This is because even within schools, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds aren’t given the chance to take advantage of dual enrollment programs. In far too many high school buildings, one can easily identify which class is advanced by looking at the racial makeup of the students.

The persistent gaps in dual enrollment opportunities signal a need to do more than just make the programs available; barriers that lock low-income students and students of color out of critical opportunities must be removed. Equity advocates and policymakers must take notice of discriminatory practices in the past, and focus on building racially and economically equitable schools for the future in order to ensure that students of color and low-income students have the opportunities they deserve.

Therefore, any policy to expand or increase dual enrollment programs, MUST include these six equity considerations:

  1. Make more students eligible to take dual enrollment classes by broadening entry requirements and giving students multiple points of entry, including but not limited to:
    • ACT/SAT scores
    • high school GPA or class rank
    • fulfillment of pre-requisite requirements
    • students’ demonstrated proficiency in the subject for which they wish to enroll (even if they are not proficient in other areas)
    • or the recommendation of an academic or career adviser
  2. Require that information about dual enrollment (including waived fees, course offerings, benefits of enrolling, and course requirements) be given to all high school students and families and be made available in the family’s primary language.
  3. Require partnering higher education institutions to establish agreements that include a plan for providing student advisement and support. This can include:
    • Providing dually enrolled high school students with access to the same support services (e.g., academic advising and counseling, library resources, etc.) that are available to regularly enrolled college students, and/or
    • Designating at least one person to serve as a liaison for each district and postsecondary institution partnership. This person would be responsible for advising students and families, assisting with course scheduling, and linking students to support services
  4. Ensure that college and high school programs serving underserved students are held to the same standards of rigor as traditional college courses. In order to achieve this, college courses offered within secondary schools should use the same syllabi and exams as comparable courses taught on college campuses.
  5. Allow students to simultaneously gain high school and college credit upon successful completion of courses.
  6. Provide more funding for a pipeline of strong and diverse school counselors. Traditionally, schools rely on the recommendations of counselors to identify students for dual enrollment opportunities, but schools serving the most students of color have fewer counselors. In addition, there is a lack of racial diversity among counselors, over 70% of school counselors are White. Therefore, it is especially important to train counselors to address how they interact with students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

Dual enrollment programs are just one of many learning opportunities that students of color and students from low-income families are often denied access to. To truly achieve educational equity, policymakers and equity advocates must promote equitable allocation of a wide range of resources and opportunities that students need to succeed such as access to a positive school climate, a diverse teacher workforce and strong school leaders who can seek out students of color and low-income students for opportunities like dual enrollment. Maybe then, states can start to achieve true racial equity in the pursuit of educational justice.